For as long as I can remember my family has always been very active in visiting people, singing, volunteering and doing whatever we could do during the Christmas season.
One of my earliest memories is as a child of about 3 years old taking homemade dough ornaments to a nursing home. One of the old ladies tried to eat the little cookie-shaped ornament which horrified me.
I find it interesting that I have only two memories of receiving gifts over the years of my childhood and hundreds of memories of reaching out to others. And I think that is how it should be.
Once I had grown and had my own children we continued the tradition by making Christmas cards and going around with Meals for Wheels or performing carols at hospitals and nursing homes.
Every year, since my birthday falls just one week before Christmas, we were nearly always doing a show or outreach program or volunteer project on my birthday. I loved it because it felt so much better than indulging myself. Plus it was always fairly easy to work the fact that it was my birthday into conversation at some point. Well wishes and birthday cheer would then be heaped on me. Being a dedicated extrovert this was A-ok with me.
Now that we are focusing on different charitable activities we have few extra activities at Christmas aside from teaching the kids about Christ's birth and giving our staff a little something special. I miss the other forms of outreach at times but know that God has His time for everything.
Below is something my dad wrote last year remembering our Christmas fun while living in India.
December 24, 2008Following the news of the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, my mind was flooded with memories of walking those very streets and entering the train station and hotels pictured in the news.
This same flood of memories happened to me some months ago, when a separate series of bombing racked that city-- for we once sang at one of the bombed hotels. Although it has been over twenty years since the five years I spent in India with my family, the memory of a particular Christmas Eve has never left me.
Several of my own children, plus a couple others, had finished the second of two thirty-minute sets of Christmas songs in the lobby of an international hotel. We asked the children, "Well, should we go?"
"No, please, one more time.”
The faces of international airline crews checking into the hotel may have had something to do with their wanting to stay. The crews looked tired and uninspired as they entered– forced to spend Christmas day away from home and loved ones as there were almost no flights out on December 25. However, their expressions quickly passed to surprise, warm relief and brightness as they stopped and even sang along.
The interaction between the performers and the audience created an electric, energy-filled atmosphere that seemed to sustain us-- fuel poured on our motivation to keep going-- spreading the oft ignored true meaning of Christmas. 'One more time' repeated itself throughout the evening-- just as it had every day for a week or more. The children would seem to come to the end of their strength, but would suggest, “Can we just drink another lemon-water* and go one more time?"
(*Highly carbonated bitter-tasting bottled mineral water was usually the only safe drink available-- but a pinch of salt took out some of the carbonation and some lemon and a spoon of sugar made it palatable.)
Another special memory of that evening occurred when we noticed that a businessman seated across the lobby was gently sobbing. An member of our team who approached him heard him saying, "They're so good; and I'm so bad." He explained that he was moved by the pure love that he could see in the children's performance and then prayed with our co-worker to receive God's Christmas gift-- Jesus-- into his heart.
Our personal remembrances, fun and enjoyment are also important and have their place as we celebrate Christmas, but by focusing on opportunities to share God's precious gift of love to the world-- our own joy is multiplied. As in Saint Francis' prayer-- it is in giving that we truly receive.
I pray that you have a wonderfully happy Christmas dear friends --
With love, Bruce
(Photos circa 1987 of my children: Ruth, Phil, Priya, Brant, Chloe and Amy)